Research Activities

Scholarly Communications Lab 

The ScholCommLab is an interdisciplinary team of researchers based in Vancouver and Ottawa interested in all aspects of scholarly communication. It is co-directed by Dr. Juan Pablo Alperin, an assistant professor in SFU’s Publishing Program and an associate researcher with the Public Knowledge Project, and Stefanie Haustein, an assistant professor at the School of Information Studies at the University of Ottawa. Using a combination of computational techniques, innovative methods, and traditional qualitative methods, the lab explores a wide range of questions about how knowledge is produced, disseminated, and used. A few of the lab’s recent projects include:

Understanding the Societal Impact of Research through Altmetrics
As the communication of research increasingly takes place on social media and other online platforms, there is enormous potential to capture and analyze digital traces left by scholars. This offers, for the first time, the opportunity to study at large scale—using both quantitative and qualitative methods—the processes of knowledge dissemination and co-creation between academia and the public. Taking advantage of this opportunity, the altmetrics project asks: What is the nature and extent of societal impact of research that can be observed through the public’s engagement with research in the digital sphere?
Assessing Current Practices in Review, Promotion, and Tenure
One of the key components of workplace advancement at the university level are the review, promotion, and tenure (RPT) packets that are typically submitted every other year by early career faculty. These guidelines and forms are considered to be of highest importance, as they allow faculty to demonstrate the value and impact of their work to the university and the broader scientific community. The importance of RPT guidelines and forms makes them a natural place to effect change towards an opening of access to research (something both Canada and the US have been pushing for through federal policies and laws). While we believe changes in RPT guidelines and forms may lead to broader interest and adoption of open access principles across academia, the reality is that very little is known about current RPT practices. This two-part research project seeks to examine the RPT process in the US and Canada in ways that can directly inform actions likely to translate into behavioural change and to a greater opening of research. Want to find out more? Read about the first phase of the study on Nature, Inside Higher Ed, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.
New Advances in Science Communication
New platforms such as blogs, snapchat, and YouTube are rapidly transforming the world’s media landscape—as well as the way in which we share, consume, and engage with scholarly work. The ScholCommLab is investigating these new developments in science communication, asking such questions as: Who is sharing science in today’s digital world, and how do they identify themselves? What strategies are most effective for communicating research in a crowded media landscape? How might the public contribute to the way in which science news is shared, portrayed, and understood? Find out more about science communication at the ScholCommLab.
The Past, Present, and Future of Open Access Publishing
Although interest in Open Access (OA) to scholarly literature is growing, relatively little is known about the prevalence, characteristics, and implications of this emerging body of work. Does openness affect citation impact? What percentage of scholarly literature is currently OA, and has this changed in recent years? How have digital advances changed the nature of scholarly publishing? The ScholCommLab is investigating these questions and more in a series of large-scale, collaborative projects.


Evolution of Scholarly Communication

The field of scholarly communication has undergone significant change in recent years, with the introduction of digital technologies, financial pressures for academic institutions, and increased competition. As the environment shifts, the CISP works to identifying and understanding new challenges and opportunities that present themselves, in order to improve the processes of knowledge dissemination. Below are some of our ongoing projects in the area:

Scholarly Monograph Futures

In 2014, the Andrew W Mellon Foundation launched a broad-based initiative to help move scholarly monographs into the digital age. The Mellon Foundation invited John Maxwell and CISP to provide an external evaluation of the funding initiative and help make sense of the variety of activity in this area. Our final report (May 2016) was based on consultations with the various grantees and the monograph publishing community across North America, and appeared in the Journal of Electronic Publishing 20 (1) [also available as a PDF].

In 2018 CISP began a second study, under the auspices of a grant from MIT Press, to conduct a landscape analysis of available open-source publishing software. This report is designed to make sense of a very complex and dynamic field and to help guide project planning and development decisions across the community going forward. We expect to release a report in spring 2019.
Open Social Scholarship (INKE Collaboration)
CISP is an active partner with the Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE) research group (based at the University of Victoria). This multi-year, cross-Canada initiative seeks to prototype new forms of open, networked, scholarly communication via ‘publication in practice.’ How can a networked scholarly community like INKE capture its own ongoing discourse, rendering it durable, citable, and reliable? How does ongoing scholarly communication in the humanities transform the research process itself?


History of Publishing

With an half millennium of history to explore, the research interests under this theme are varied, but all seek to uncover how the practice of publishing has evolved over time, how it has been influenced by the world around it, and how it has influenced that world in turn. Below are some of our ongoing projects in the area:

Aldus @ SFU
In 2015, in honour of the five-hundredth anniversary of the death of Renaissance publisher Aldus Manutius, the CISP worked with SFU Library’s Special Collections to create an online platform showcasing digitized volumes from SFU’s outstanding Wosk–McDonald Aldine Collection. The prototype websiteAldus@SFU, comprises twenty-one fully digitized editions printed during Aldus’ lifetime (1501–1515); a second group of Aldines, including a representative selection from the years after Aldus’ demise (1515–1529), was digitized in 2018 and will be available to the public in 2019. The project, led by Alessandra Bordini, will enter a new phase next year, with the development of a new version of the website. Learn more about Aldus@SFU in this interview for the DHIL blog.
The Intellectual Properties of Learning: From Saint Jerome to John Locke
John Willinsky‘s new (2018) book seeks to establish how a prototypical form of intellectual property emerged from within medieval monasteries and cathedral schools, and all the more so through the universities, from the medieval to Early Modern era. This pre-history culminates with Locke’s theory of property and early copyright law at the turn of the seventeenth century. Both can be shown to support distinctions that still set learned intellectual properties apart from other sorts, and that tend to be lost sight of amid the current intellectual-property gold rush. Published by the University of Chicago Press, Dr Willinsky has also made available an Open Access draft of the book.
Coach House Press: A History of Publishing Technology and Innovation
A wide-ranging inquiry tracing the early histories of technological change in Canadian publishing, largely centering on the pioneering digital innovation at Toronto’s Coach House Press in the 1970s and 1980s. This research blends cultural history with media archaeology and software studies. An article by John Maxwell, “Coach House Press in the ‘Early Digital’ Period: A Celebration,” appeared in Devil’s Artisan: A Journal of the Printing Arts. 77, Fall/Winter 2015.


Design Research

From print to digital, production is the hub where all publishing activities intersect. Research in the area considers the significance of published works as products, the production process and workflows, and how the design and materiality of texts influences audience reception. Some of our current projects in the area are listed below:

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: A case study of design and production values
Amanda Lastoria’s doctoral research project explores the industrial mediation of the text via the materiality, and material evolution, of the book. Using multiple editions of a single title – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – as a case study, it seeks to document, historicize and interrogate the ways in which the design and production values of the book multiply and diversify the markets and meanings of the text. The project combines methods and tools of bibliography, book history, publishing history, literary theory and design theory.
Text Processing Techniques & Traditions
A course taught by John Maxwell each June at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI); it provides a hands-on introduction to the accumulated wealth of text processing strategies and tactics from the past four decades: using them, and considering them in the context of the cultural histories of computing and publishing technology from which they arise. Over the week we work with a range of tools and toolkits, and explore methods for integrating and making text processes more efficient and more convivial — from venerable Unix tools (like regular expressions) to XML and markup concepts through to latter-day digital production methodologies. Please see for registration info.


Other Areas of Expertise

With expertise in both trade (book and magazine) and scholarly publishing, the CISP’s research covers a broad range of themes beyond those listed above, including the impact of digital technologies in the cultural sector; book, periodical, and digital media history; sociology of knowledge; open access; bibliometrics, and audience measurement. Some of our other recent projects are listed below:

Digital Feminist Counter-Publics
In 2016, the Internet is far from a safe space for women—even less so for trans women, women of colour, queer women, indigenous women, and women whose identities otherwise lie at the intersection of multiple forms of oppression. A forthcoming special issue of the open access journal Atlantis begins from that danger, but it also begins from the possibilities feminist publics and counterpublics actively foster, the communities they form, and the audiences they hail as they negotiate the incredibly fraught space of the Internet. Edited by Hannah McGregor, Marcelle Kosman, and Clare Mulcahy, the collection will incorporate work by feminist scholars including Jacqueline Wernimont, Michele White, and Erin Wunker, as well as interviews with activists Alicia Garza, Virgie Tovar, and the editorial collective of GUTS Canadian Feminist Magazine.

Research Partnerships

PKP – The Public Knowledge Project is a multi-university initiative developing (free) open source software and conducting research to improve the quality and reach of scholarly publishing.

INKE – INKE is a collaborative group of researchers and graduate research assistants working with other organizations and partners to explore the digital humanities, electronic scholarly communication, and the affordances of electronic text.

Post-Doctoral Research

A postdoctoral fellow will be joining CISP during the summer. Information is coming soon. We are always interested in hosting other fellows, and welcome the opportunity to support your applications to fellowships that would allow you to work on projects related to the institute’s activities.

Graduate Research

The CISP’s Master of Publishing students engage in independent research throughout the program, on range of topics relevant to the publishing industry. Their work in the Publishing Industries and Technology and Evolving Forms of Publishing seminars is available publicly.

Following a 13-week internship, the students also complete a research project report designed to be of value to the host company, future students, and larger community of those who have an interest in publishing. These reports provide a unique view of current practices in publishing framed by what students learn in the masters program. A selection of these reports is available here.